After over a year of waiting for justice to be served, Bonnie and Rodney Salyer, parents of deceased Texas State student Austin Salyer, finally await a final court hearing on Jan. 6.
On Sept. 16, 2021, Austin was killed by negligent gunfire while sleeping in his apartment at The Lyndon at Springtown Center in San Marcos.
Gabriel Brown, Austin's neighbor, claimed that around midnight, he accidentally fired his gun while modifying it and speaking on the phone with his father. The gunfire struck Austin through their shared wall while he was in bed. Austin was found the following morning around 11 a.m. on the wall beside his restroom where he had crawled before taking his last breath.
“[The bullet] went through both of his lungs breaking two ribs, and it lodged in his right arm. At that, obviously, you can imagine what that would [be like] waking up to that,” Rodney said. “So he managed to get out of bed. He got out of his bedroom into the hallway between his bedroom and his bathroom and that's where he collapsed.”
Before entering Austin's apartment, his parents were unsure of what they would find.
“They had the flooring all ripped out where his body was,” Bonnie said.
Since the tragic day, the Salyers have been advocating for their son's killer, Brown, to serve his time in jail. However, with a booked court system, the pain of waiting has been excruciating as time continues to tick on.
“None of the legal process moves forward until the autopsy is complete and it's not complete until they finalize their paperwork,” Rodney said. “Again, if you go back and look at the actual dates on the paperwork, they had this done long ago. Why was it sitting there for four months? Why does it take four months? Why is it take six months to sit there when you know the autopsy has already been done?”
The Salyers spent nearly $2,000 and waited eight days until the autopsy was complete to have their son's body arrive at the funeral home on Sept. 24. Austin's memorial service took place on Sept. 27 before his body was sent for cremation.
“After he was transported, he was in what they call a holding casket, that's the casket he was in for the service,” Rodney said. “While he remained in that holding casket, still waiting for the judge to sign off so that we could then have the cremation and so knowing your son is laying there basically, every minute seemed like an eternity.”
The State of Texas v. Gabriel Brown court case opened on April 27, seven months after Austin's death. While the grand jury is secretive, according to the Salyers, the jury was presented with two sentencing options: manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide. The major difference between the sentencing being the time behind bars for Brown.
“A lot of people don't know or understand that it's very difficult because you're turning this over to other people's hands and you get to have no input say,” Rodney said. “Yet, Gabriel gets to be at the grand jury, he gets to speak on his behalf but nobody gets to speak on Austin's behalf besides the prosecutor.”
The grand jury found Brown guilty of criminally negligent homicide, which he plead guilty to, resulting in a maximum of two years in jail compared to up to 99 years if charged with manslaughter.
The Salyers were disappointed and angered with the sentencing, feeling that it is not enough for the loss of their only son’s life.
“He's lost way more than two years. We've got our decades left to live without him. He was our only child. So it's just us. We don't have other children to turn to. We'll never see grandchildren," Rodney said. "We won't have anybody to help care for us when we're older. We won't be able to do all the plans that we had with him so it's something we're going to have to live with for many, many years with a lot of pain. At most he's going to see two so that's why the sentencing is so important to us. We have a lot of folks that are planning to come to that, some of which will we'll be giving impact statements.”
Since Brown has plead guilty, the judge will decide how many out of the maximum time he will have to serve during the Jan. 6 court hearing. The Salyers' goal is to get as much time as possible for their son's justice.